Scottish Highland Dance is a traditional form of solo dance that can be traced back to the early 1200s in Scotland. Originating with the Scottish military, many Highland dances tell the stories of some of the most famous battles in Scotland’s history.
Today, both women and men dance traditional highland, national and character dances. And interestingly, women and men compete side-by-side; there are no gender-specific categories in Scottish Highland dance. Dancers are divided only by age and ability!
- Search “MSCDA” on YouTube to see competitions and performances!
Likely the oldest of the traditional dances of Scotland, the Highland Fling signifies victory following a battle. The warriors made this dance a feat of strength and agility by dancing on their upturned shields which had a sharp spike of steel projecting from the center. Dancers learned early to move with great skill and dexterity. Others say the Highland Fling was inspired by the sight of a deer prancing on a hillside. The upraised arms and hands in the dance represent the deer’s antlers.
Sword Dance (Gillie Callum)
Legend has it that the initial Gillie Callum was created by Malcolm Canmore, a Celtic Prince who fought a battle in 1054. Triumphant, he crossed his opponent’s sword with his own and danced over them celebrating his victory. It is also said that the warriors danced the Sword Dance prior to battle. If the warrior touched the swords, it was considered an omen symbolizing injury or death in battle.
Seann Triubhas (Old Trousers)
This dance originated as a political protest dating back to 1745 when the wearing of the kilt was an act of treason. Pronounced “shawn trews”, this Gaelic phrase means “old trousers”. The beautiful, graceful steps reflect the restrictions imposed by the foreign trousers. The lively quick time in the dance recreates the Highlanders’ celebration of rediscovered freedom.
The Reel O’ Tulloch is said to have started in a churchyard on a cold winter morning when the minister was late for his service. The parishioners tried to keep warm by stamping their feet, clapping their hands and swinging each other by the arms.
The National Dances
The national dances are more modern than the Highland Dances and were developed so women could participate. The costume worn by women is called the Aboyne dress named in honor of the Aboyne Highland Games in Scotland where women were forbidden to wear the traditional Highland outfit. The National Dances are much more rhythmic and balletic; however, they still require quick and precise movements. Some of the dances include:
- Scottish Lilt
- The Earl of Errol
- Village Maid
- Blue Bonnets
- Scotch Measure
Several National Dances are performed in the kilt since they were originally men’s dances. Men, of course, also perform all of the dances, but they wear the traditional Highland outfit.
- The Highland Laddie
- Wilt Thou Go to the Barracks, Johnny?
The Scottish version of the Irish Jig is meant to parody an angry Irish washerwoman when she finds out some neighborhood boys have knocked all of her clean wash to the ground. Another version describes a woman who shakes her firsts and flounces her skirt because she is furious with her husband who has been out drinking until the wee hours.
The Sailor’s Hornpipe requires strength and stamina to mimic in dance a variety of shipboard tasks including swabbing the deck, climbing the ship’s rigging, standing watch and hauling in rope. The Hornpipe is danced in a British sailor’s uniform and derived its name from the fact that usually the musical accompaniment was played on a hornpipe rather than bagpipes.